Posts Tagged ‘urban wine experience’

Petite Sirah Preferences

August 5, 2011

This week I tasted the oldest petite sirah label in California and one of the newest.

Both wines were made in Alameda County from grapes grown in other areas — the Central Coast and Spring Mountain in Sonoma.

The Concannon Vineyard 2009 is the latest offering from the first winery in the country to free petite sirah from its role as a blending grape and bottle it as a varietal.

The Livermore winery, founded by Irishman James Concannon in 1883, first put petite sirah on the label 50 years ago. The winery has branched out, in the meantime, boosting production from its estate vineyards to include bottlings from the Central Coast.

The 2009, which I bought on sale at Lucky for $6.99, is a blend of grapes from various Central Coast vineyards.

It’s got the peppery bite that P.S. lovers adore and a good tannic structure that held up well against a broiled rib eye steak.

This wine isn’t all swagger. There’s some oak and a nice vein of blackberry fruit alongside those tannins.

Concannon makes a number of more sophisticated petite sirah wines, but if you’re looking for a low-cost red that meets a high quality mark, look no further.

The winery will be hosting a special 50th anniversary tasting of its petite sirah wines next weekend (Aug. 13-14).

Carica Wines

The 2008 is the first ever petite sirah from Carica Wines, a small family-run operation headed by Charlie Dollbaum, a physician from Oakland who makes his wines at Rock Wall Wine Company in Alameda.

Charlie and Helen Dollbaum

I met Dollbaum and his daughter, Helen, at a Rock Wall tasting earlier this week when they poured his petite sirah along with a syrah and a grenache-syrah-mourvedre blend plus a rose of grenache and two sauvignon blancs.

For me, the reds stood out.

The petite sirah ($36) from Kick Ranch in Sonoma was a sophisticated bruiser.

The color is dark ink with the characteristic pepperiness on the approach.

It’s a bit hesitant on the nose, spicy plum, but the blackberry fruit goes on and on and on for a full minute. Delightful!

I also enjoyed the 2008 blend, Siren, which is Carica’s take on a Rhone-style wine with a majority of the blend coming from three different syrah clones grown by Kick Ranch. The grenache is also from Kick but the mourvedre came from Lake County.

This is a harmonic mix of creamy crimson-hued goodness in a $32 bottle. The finish is smooth and juicy with a broad swath of plum fruit.

Carica Wines will be featured at the Urban Wine Experience, a gathering sponsored by the East Bay Vintner’s Alliance at Jack London Pavilion in Oakland on Saturday (Aug. 6) from 2-5 p.m..

Later this month, Carica wines will be poured alongside hundreds of other family made wines at the Family Winemakers of California annual tasting event at Fort Mason (Sunday, Aug. 21).


Flirting on the Feminine Side

July 30, 2011

It’s easy to lump rose wines together in the “feminine” side of the wine world, but the description is apt when it fits like a little pink sun dress on a hot wine country day.

The start of this little adventure began with a meal of takeout chicken teriyaki from one of my favorite Alameda restaurants — Kamakura.

I called in a “to go” order from my car and had 15 minutes to kill before it was ready, so I wandered into the nearby Du Vin Fine Wines shop to find something to drink with dinner.

I’d normally grab a dry riesling or maybe sauvignon blanc, but when I asked the proprietor, Dan Marshall, for a recommendation his response was unexpected.

He thought a rose might be a good choice and  pointed to a $12.99 bottle of pink wine from the Mediterranean coast.

At first, I was doubtful. But my adventurous side took over and I carried the 2010 Cuvee du Golfe de Saint-Tropez by Les Vignerons de Grimaud home for dinner.

It was flirty, fun and fantastic.

The French wine is a light pink color with a mild floral nose. It’s a dry blend of grenache, cinsault and carignane. The grenache fruit comes though, albeit with a whispery light touch.

It was easy to drink and definitely complemented the Japanese chicken dish that included a side of sautéed carrots and steamed rice.

Something Old

When I pulled out a bottle of Thomas Coyne 2004 Vino Tinto Reserva from my cellar the other day, I wasn’t sure what seven years of age had to done to this blend of Portuguese grapes from Lodi.

When I bought the wine several years ago — at a Coyne open house in Livermore — it was fresh, fruity and lip-smacking good. I stuck the bottle in my cellar and completely forgot about it until a few days ago.

I’d made a vegetarian pizza — tomato sauce covered with mozzarella, fresh tomatoes from my garden and some orange bell peppers — and it cried out for a gulpable red wine. The Vino Tinta Rosa fit the bill.

It tasted as fresh as the first taste I’d had years ago, an unexpected pleasure. It felt like I was rediscovering an old friend and made me want to start looking for a taste of the current vintage ($18, available at the winery).

Urban Wineries Pouring in Oakland

The East Bay Vintners Alliance is hosting its annual Urban Wine Experience on the waterfront in Oakland next weekend.

There will be more than 20 wineries pouring dozens of wines on Saturday (Aug. 6) from 2-5 p.m. at the Jack London Pavilion.  There will be 20 different food vendors, paired one-on-one with the wineries. Order online before Aug. 1 and pay $40/ticket. After that, the tab rises to $60.

Urban Wines by the Bay

July 28, 2010

The Alameda/Oakland  Ferry becomes a wine-drinker shuttle this weekend when city dwellers can sail from San Francisco to the Urban Wine Experience on the East Bay shoreline.

There will be 19 wineries from the East Bay Vintner’s Alliance pouring about 60 wines from 2-5 p.m. on Saturday (July 31) in Oakland at the old Barnes and Noble building, now called the Jack London Pavilion.

It’s easily reachable from all of the Bay Area by car, BART and several bus lines. Advance tickets are $45 online and $60 at the door.

Starting Small

Although there is one big fish in the group, Rosenblum Cellars, most of the wineries are much tinier operations that produce small lots of wines with limited distribution. Here’s a chance to taste wines you won’t likely see on any grocery store shelf.

Bob Rawson is president of the  vintner group and a partner in Urbano Cellars, which operates in Emeryville at facilities operated by Periscope Cellars, another small producer that set up shop in an old submarine repair shop in an industrial block of 62nd Street off Hollis Avenue.

Bob Rawson, Urbano Cellars

Rawson started making wine several years ago in his San Francisco garage with a neighbor, Fred Dick. It was a hobby that grew into a business with plans to expand into new space in Oakland later this year.

Several alliance members share facilities with Rock Wall Wines in Alameda, where a huge aircraft hangar at the old naval air station provides room to work and grow their businesses.

Other alliance winemakers, like Jeff Cohn at JC Cellars, who started working at bigger wineries, like Rosenblum, have grown their businesses and now operate their own wineries. JC Cellars shares winery and tasting room space with Dashe Cellars at 55 4th Street in Oakland.

Award Winners

Some of these wines are “turn your head around” good and have been recognized for excellence at various competitions around the state.

One of the newest alliance members, Urban Legend in Oakland, won Best of Show at the California State Fair for their 2009 Clarksburg rosato di barbera ($16). I wrote about this dry, flavorful summer wine in an earlier blog about the new winery near Jack London Square (621 4th Street, Oakland). Only 65 cases were made.

Urbano will be pouring its own 2008 rose’, a bone dry wine made from the valdiguie grape. Known in some circles as Napa Gamay, valdigue is actually a French grape that is sparsely planted in California.

Rawson gets grapes for his “vin rose'” from a two-acre plot in Solano County. (Click here for my take on an interesting Solano County winery to visit.)

“We are trying to make something different and unusual,” Rawson said, explaining why there is no cabernet sauvignon or chardonnay in his lineup.

Instead, he sources fruit from small growers of sangiovese, barbera, and petit verdot grapes.

The 2006 petit verdot from Urbano (made from grapes grown in Lodi) is a steal at $16. It’s not a grape you see bottled on its own very much. Usually petit verdot is a small part of a Bordeaux-style blend, but in Rawson’s hands this petit verdot becomes a smooth and complex red wine.

One alliance member, Adams Point Winery, goes in another direction, making mostly fruit-based wines from mango, papaya and persimmon. There’s room for all kinds of wines in this alliance, so you’ll find a wide range of styles from big, bold reds to rose’ wines and whites, too.

Urban Concept Pays Off

The idea that wines can be made outside of the major wine-growing regions, like Napa and Sonoma, isn’t new. Home and hobby winemakers  all over the country make wine from imported grapes. Rawson thinks the commercial urban winemaking movement is sustainable and practical.

“This is a model that can work,” he said, over a glass of his delightful 2008 sangiovese. “There are no land costs and no planting costs. We’re leasing warehouse space, for the most part.”

And, Rawson says, “Most of the wine consumers are here, where we are, not in Napa or Sonoma.”

Plus, there are plenty of high-quality grapes for sale from all the major growing regions, which are only a few hours away from the urban wineries.

“There are plenty of grapes. And, as beautiful as it is to look at vineyards from your porch, you don’t need that view to make great wine,” he said.

Here’s a link to a listing of all the members of the East Bay Vintner’s Alliance.

East Bay Vintner's Alliance Membership

Summertime is Wine Time

July 10, 2010

There are lots of choices this month when it comes to places to go and things to do in Wine Country. It’s high season in Napa and Sonoma and just about everywhere else wine is made, and that includes lots of Greater Bay Area festivities

First, I want to talk about a new wine that I enjoyed over the 4th of July holiday. I feel almost un-American for saying it, but the best rose’ I’ve ever had is French. It was a 2009 Reuilly pinot gris rose’ poured by my friend Bob before, during and after a delicious beef cookout to celebrate Independence Day.


This light pink wine, made by Denis Jamain in the Loire Valley, would complement any special occasion, including the July 14th Bastille Day that celebrates the start of the French Revolution.

French Bubbles in SF

If Bastille Day is your day to party, check out the action July 14 at the Bubble Lounge in San Francisco. Special prices on Champagne wines (300!) and Champagne cocktails. This is definitely a fun place, no matter what you’re celebrating. The Bastille Day party kicks off at 5 p.m. Admission is free but the bubbles definitely have a price tag. Look for great deals on Laurent-Perrier Champagne.

Suburban Blending

You’d never know it driving down I-80 toward Sacramento, but there’s an interesting little winery in Dixon that’s worth a visit. Purple Pearl Vineyards is having a summer blending party on July 17 from 2-6 p.m. Winemaker Rory Horton will pick 4-5 barrels of red wine (winemaker’s choice) for visitors to blend on their own. Admission is $10 plus $10 per bottle. Live music and food, too.

Urban Experience

The East Bay Vintner’s Alliance is having its fifth annual Urban Wine Experience on July 31 at Jack London Pavilion. This event has evolved into a really neat opportunity to taste the best that the inner Bay Area has to offer, with 19 wineries pouring more than 60 wines for the public.  Tickets are $45 in advance and $60 at the door. Live music and appetizers are included in the tab. Look for new wines from a new member of the alliance, Urban Legend Cellars, which I covered in an earlier blog.

Hit the Beach in Oakland

One of the wineries pouring at the Urban Wine Experience is holding its own beach-oriented tasting tomorrow (1-4 p.m., Saturday, July 10). Flip flops and Hawaiian shirts are the uniform of the day at JC Cellars in Oakland, where about 15 wines will be poured for attendees ($25 in advance, $30 at the door). In addition to ice cream for the kids, there will be appetizers from gourmet rotisserie specialist Roil Roti.

Rock On in Alameda

Rock Wall Wine Company hosts a summer open house on July 24 from Noon to 5 p.m. The Alameda winery, which is also home to several other wine-makers who don’t have their own facilities yet, is housed in an old airplane hangar at the Alameda Naval Air Station.

If it’s a clear day, visitors can take advantage of one of the most drop-dead gorgeous views of the San Francisco skyline in the entire Bay Area. They make some pretty good wines there, too, and about 50 will be open for sampling. I’m looking forward to tasting the 2008 Sonoma County Reserve zinfandel, which comes from the historic Monte Rosso vineyard.

The operation is headed by Shauna Rosenblum, daughter of zinfandel champion Kent Rosenblum, who’s also involved in the new winery. If you take the ferry from San Francisco or Oakland, there’s free shuttle service from the Alameda Ferry Terminal to Rock Wall!

Click here for a partial list of participating wineries. Tickets are $25 through July 18 at the winery and $35 through the winery website.

Paws and Causes in Napa

Bring your canine companions to HALL winery in St. Helena on Sunday (July 11) for a dog day afternoon tasting current releases alongside a side order of doggie treats for the four-footed types. The event at this award-winning cabernet producer’s property runs 11 a.m.-3 p.m. and it’s free. 

Later this month, on July 25, the Napa Humane Society hosts a big fund-raiser and tasting event at Silverado Resort in Napa. The Cause for the Paws festivities will feature Napa-area wines, a charity auction and a selection of food from regional restaurants. There will be a portable adoption unit set up on the grounds to give party-goers a chance to take home a shelter pet. Advance tickets are available at the Napa Humane web site in advance for $55 or $65 at the door. 

Shoe Corkscrew?

You can open a bottle of wine with your shoe. Weird, but true. You can actually open a bottle of wine using your shoe. I’d never have thought of it myself, but it works. Brilliant solution if you’re corkscrew-less and not barefoot.  Kudos to for the video.